Partner Salka Viertel, Mercedes De Acosta
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165 Mabery Rd, Santa Monica, CA 90402, USA
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Hotel Adlon, Unter den Linden 77, 10117 Berlin, Germania
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Greta Garbo, born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson (18 September 1905 – 15 April 1990), was a Swedish-born American film actress during the 1920s and 1930s. In her 1960 autobiography, Here Lies the Heart, Mercedes De Acosta claimed to have been intimate with Isadora Duncan, Marlene Dietrich, Alice B. Toklas, Marie Laurencin, Eva Le Gallienne, Malvina Hoffman and Greta Garbo. Garbo has been romantically linked also to Marlene Dietrich, Salka Viertel, Louise Brooks (described Garbo as a "charming and tender" lover), Billie Holiday, Tallulah Bankhead, Natacha Rambova, Dolores Del Rio, Cecile de Rothschild. There were stories of affairs with the actresses Lilyan Tashman and Fifi D'Orsay, although these may be apocryphal. By 1932, Hollywood had decided that her dazzling stage presence would never compensate for her indiscretions. But before she was forced out of town, she angrily told Louis B. Mayer that she had slept with six of his top stars, including Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford.
Garbo was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actress and received an Academy Honorary Award in 1954 for her "luminous and unforgettable screen performances." In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Garbo fifth on their list of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema, after Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman.
Garbo launched her career with a secondary role in the 1924 Swedish film The Saga of Gosta Berling. In 1925 she is in The Joyless Street filmed in Berlin. In her old age, Marlene Dietrich, before always denying it, confirmed that also she was in The Joyless Street with Garbo. She admitted it to her British late-life friend and biographer David Bret, an expert on the Berlin nightlife of her era. She is "Maria's friend", an unbilled black-haired young woman to whom others later gave other names.
Garbo's performance in The Saga of Gosta Berling caught the attention of Louis B. Mayer, chief executive of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), who brought her to Hollywood in 1925. She immediately stirred interest with her first silent film, Torrent, released in 1926; a year later, her performance in Flesh and the Devil, her third movie, made her an international star.
by Arnold Genthe
Greta Garbo and Salka Viertel
165 Mabery Rd, Santa Monica, CA
The Ritz Tower
Garbo's first talking film was Anna Christie (1930). MGM marketers enticed the public with the catch-phrase "Garbo talks!" That same year she starred in Romance. For her performances in these films she received the first of three Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. (Academy rules at the time allowed for a performer to receive a single nomination for their work in more than one film). In 1932, her popularity allowed her to dictate the terms of her contract and she became increasingly selective about her roles. Her success continued in films such as Mata Hari (1931) and Grand Hotel (1932). Many critics and film historians consider her performance as the doomed courtesan Marguerite Gautier in Camille (1936) to be her finest. The role gained her a second Academy Award nomination.
Considering the work of classic Hollywood's gay directors and gay producers, a small but vital subset of the studio system, suggests "queer cinema" might not be such a modern postulate. Occasionally, a convergence of director, producer, writer, and star came together, such as happened with Camille (1937). The gay writer DeWitt Bodeen said that Camille "represents a meeting of talents that were perfect for its interpretation." In fact, wags like to call the picture a rare "all-gay" studio production, and in some ways it comes close: producer David Lewis, director George Cukor, screenwriter Zoe Akins. Greta Garbo, too, and Mercedes de Acosta had a hand in the early draft of the script before Akins took over. Robert Taylor, who played a stunningly beautiful Armand, was rumored to be having an affair with the film's set decorator, Jack Moore. There was also Adrian on costumes and Sydney Guilaroff doing hair. Rex O'Malley infused his Gaston with a natural feyness, a quality perhaps intended by Cukor and Akins, and another gay actor, Rex Evans, played several bit parts. ("Who is that big man and what part is he playing?" Garbo asked Cukor. "That man is Rex Evans," the director replied, "and he's playing the part of a friend who needs a job.") Cukor also manuevered the hiring of another friend, and another gay man, as the picture's true art director, supplanting the ubiquitous Cedric Gibbons, whose contract nonetheless decreed screen credit. This was Oliver Messel, esteemed scenic and costume designer from the London stage, whose outsider status evoked suspicion in the competitive world of the Hollywood studios. It wasn't Messel's first encounter with the studio bureaucracy; in 1935, during the filming of Romeo and Juliet, Cukor had caused a near war by insisting Messel design the costumes instead of Adrian, whom Cukor, according to several friends, viewed as pompous and pretentious. Cukor, as discreet as he was, never tried to obfuscate either his Jewishness or his gayness in the way Adrian did. "I get annoyed with statements that call George "closeted",", said his longtime friend and Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas. "George was never closeted. He never pretended to be anything he wasn't. He lived according to the rules of his time, that's all."
After Camille, Garbo's career soon declined, and she was one of the many stars labeled "Box Office Poison" in 1938. Her career revived upon her turn to comedy in Ninotchka (1939), which earned her a third Academy Award nomination, but after the failure of Two-Faced Woman (1941), she retired from the screen, at the age of 35, after acting in twenty-eight films.
From then on, Garbo declined all opportunities to return to the screen. Shunning publicity, she began a private life. Garbo also became an art collector in her later life; her collection, including works from painters such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, and Kees van Dongen, was worth millions of dollars when she died.
Garbo never married, had no children, and lived alone as an adult. Her most famous romance was with her frequent co-star, John Gilbert, with whom she lived intermittently in 1926 and 1927. Soon after their romance began, Gilbert began helping her acting on the set, teaching her how to behave like a star, how to socialize at parties, and how to deal with studio bosses. They costarred again in three more hits, Love (1927), A Woman of Affairs (1928), and Queen Christina (1933). Gilbert allegedly proposed to her numerous times, with Garbo agreeing but backing out at the last minute. "I was in love with him," she said. "But I froze. I was afraid he would tell me what to do and boss me. I always wanted to be the boss."
"I shall die a bachelor!" Garbo proclaims in Queen Christina (1933), dressed as a man, moments after kissing Elizabeth Allan in a passionate, aggressive embrace. It's not surprising that the film was partially scripted by Mercedes De Acosta, who was told by MGM's brilliant and enlightened Irving Thalberg to see Leontine Sagan's Madchen in Uniform as inspiration. De Acosta, although frequently not credited, was often a creative consultant on Garbo's films.
In 1937, she met conductor Leopold Stokowski, with whom she had a highly publicized friendship or romance while traveling throughout Europe the following year. In his diary, Erich Maria Remarque discusses a liaison with Garbo in 1941, and in his memoir, Cecil Beaton described an affair with her in 1947 and 1948. In 1941 she met the Russian-born millionaire, George Schlee, who was introduced to her by his wife, fashion designer Valentina. Nicholas Turner, Garbo's close friend for 33 years, said that, after she bought an apartment in the same building, "Garbo moved in and took Schlee right away from Valentina." Schlee would split his time between the two, becoming Garbo's close companion and advisor until his death in 1964.
Recent biographers and others believe that Garbo was bisexual or lesbian, that she had intimate relationships with women as well as with men. In 1927, Garbo was introduced to stage and screen actress Lilyan Tashman and they may have had an affair, according to some writers. Silent film star Louise Brooks stated that she and Garbo had a brief liaison the following year.
In 1931, Garbo befriended the writer and acknowledged lesbian Mercedes de Acosta, introduced to her by her close friend, Salka Viertel, and, according to Garbo's and de Acosta's biographers, began a sporadic and volatile romance. The two remained friends—with ups and downs—for almost 30 years, during which time Garbo wrote de Acosta 181 letters, cards, and telegrams, now at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Garbo's family, which controls her estate, has made only 87 of these items publicly available.
In 1956 John Bernard Myers was a guest for a few days at Reddish House. Cecil Beaton's mother, although of great age, was still vigorous enough to do a little gardening and to enjoy the pugs that scampered underfoot. Beaton had a glass room with a small pool in the center of a wide variety of potted plants on shelves; there they would have tea. Mrs Beaton was particularly proud of the tuberoses. Tall, daughty, very proper, the old lady, when Beaton told her he was considering marriage to Greta Garbo, looked at him sternly and asked, "Pray, who may that be?", and became quite frigid when he explained she was an actress.
In 2005, Mimi Pollak's estate released 60 letters Garbo had written her in their long correspondence. Several letters suggest she may have had romantic feelings for Pollak for many years. After learning of Pollak's pregnancy in 1930, for example, Garbo wrote "We cannot help our nature, as God has created it. But I have always thought you and I belonged together". In 1975, she wrote a poem about not being able to touch the hand of her friend with whom she might have been walking through life.
Garbo was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1984. Towards the end of her life, only Garbo's closest friends knew she was receiving dialysis treatments for six hours three times a week at The Rogosin Institute in New York Hospital. A photograph appeared in the media in early 1990, showing Koger assisting Garbo, who was walking with a cane, into the hospital.
Greta Garbo died on 15 April 1990, aged 84, in the hospital, as a result of pneumonia and renal failure. Daum later claimed that towards the end, she also suffered from gastrointestinal and periodontal ailments.
Garbo was cremated in Manhattan, and her ashes were interred in 1999 at Skogskyrkogården Cemetery just south of her native Stockholm.
Garbo had invested wisely, primarily in stocks and bonds, and left her entire estate, $32,042,429—$57,000,000 by 2013 rates—to her niece, Gray Reisfield.
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